Oslo ignores Nobel row to sign oil deal with Chinese

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The Independent Online

A Chinese state-owned oil company has won a contract with Norway's Statoil to drill in the North Sea, despite Beijing's fury over the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.

China called the Oslo-based Nobel Committee "clowns" for honouring Mr Liu and threatened "consequences". Attention since the award last Friday has been on what long-term effect China's anger will have.

The announcement of the oil deal was made last Friday, the same day as an empty chair stood in for Mr Liu at the Nobel award ceremony in Oslo. Mr Liu was not allowed to attend, as he is serving an 11-year jail sentence for subversion.

Statoil said on its website that the deal involves the European subsidiary of China Oilfield Services (COSL) and its drilling rig operating in the North Sea for up to five years. COSL is the Hong Kong-listed unit of China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC).

COSL Drilling Europe will deploy a semi-submersible rig to the Norwegian continental shelf where it will conduct production and exploration drilling from mid-2011

Statoil's statement made no mention of the Nobel fracas.

When Mr Liu was named as the winner in October, Beijing said it would harm relations with Norway. China summoned Oslo's ambassador to Beijing to make a formal protest. Norway dismissed China's warning as "petty". Beijing then called off a meeting with the Norwegian fisheries minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen. Then Norwegian officials said in November that China had postponed negotiations due for later this year aimed at reaching a free trade agreement.

Mr Liu started a human rights and democracy movement known as Charter 08. He is serving his fourth jail term since the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

China said the Nobel award was an "obscenity" and part of a conspiracy against the country. It used its growing economic strength to put pressure on countries not to attend the ceremony. In the end, 18 including China didn't attend: Russia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Tunisia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Sudan, Cuba, Morocco and Algeria.

Since October, Beijing has stepped up the pressure on its dissidents. UN human rights investigators said they had reports of over 20 arrests or detentions of human rights defenders and at least 120 additional cases of activists being under house arrest, including Liu's wife, Liu Xia.